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Volunteering, donations up after Sept. 11 attacks

| Monday, Oct. 15, 2001

After she watched images of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Pat Wilson of Jeannette needed to do something.

'I was compelled to act in some way,' recalled Wilson, a Long Island native and a firefighter for 15 years.

On Sept. 12 Wilson went to the Westmoreland County chapter of the American Red Cross in Greensburg. There she discovered an office besieged with telephone calls - 400 per hour on its four telephone lines. People had questions, including queries about how to donate blood.

'It was very frenetic. ... The phones were ringing nonstop,' Wilson said.

She decided to help.

Now Wilson is part of a growing number of people volunteering to help others in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on America. The wife of Tribune-Review photographer Phil Wilson, she now averages about 30 hours per week volunteering and overseeing the chapter's volunteer orientation program.

Chapter Executive Director Donna Pacella cited Wilson as a good example of a volunteer - and said the efforts of Wilson and others are something good that has come out of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Volunteerism is up, Pacella said. 'Absolutely. It's increased the awareness of services, what we provide, and the need and the training as well.'

Since Sept. 11, 158 people have gone through general orientation to serve as volunteers at the Greensburg chapter, and about 50 more are slated to do so soon, Pacella said.

Typically, the group gets 50 volunteers in a year, and about 12 become actively involved.

'(The attacks) encouraged volunteering, coming together,' said Marlene K. Baker, executive director of the United Way of South Fayette. 'People band together to make sure people have the necessities they need.'

Pacella said many people also have donated blood.

'(It was) absolutely wonderful. We had a blood shortage two months ago. Now, it's leveled out,' she said.

But Pacella noted that people must continue to donate blood, which has a 42-day shelf life.

Monetary donations also have increased since Sept. 11. Pacella said her Red Cross chapter collected $42,604 through Oct. 5.

Nancy Kukovich, president of the Westmoreland County United Way, said her group collected about $25,000 for the September 11th Fund. The Community Foundation, with which the United Way chapter is working, raised another $19,965 for the fund. And the donations are expected to continue.

'Our plan is to send it in monthly. We'll do it with the Community Foundation,' Kukovich said.

She isn't surprised by the generosity of county residents.

'It's just a huge tragedy. We talked to people in the week (after the disaster), and it was clear people were trying to do something,' Kukovich said.

Donations to either county United Way units or other agencies may be directed to areas such as New York City or the Pentagon. Contributors also may mark their checks for local use.

Kukovich explained that demands on local programs - such as child care and family counseling - will increase as more military reserve members are called to active duty.

'We have to think of our local area and what we have to do over the next year to keep everything together,' she said.

Baker said her United Way chapter raised $1,500 so far for the September 11th Fund. Her group is one of many in Fayette County that is accepting contributions.

Darlene Means, envoy for the Salvation Army chapter in Latrobe, said her group raised about $4,000 for the fund.

'It's been going very well. People are calling, wanting to donate,' she said.

Ginny Knor of the Salvation Army's divisional headquarters in Pittsburgh said about $1.5 million has been raised by the agency's chapters and units in 28 counties in western Pennsylvania. Most of those funds will go to New York, but some will stay in the area to help the agency's own disaster account.

Before Sept. 11, the divisional headquarters had a shortfall of about $300,000. 'Heightened awareness is always helpful,' Knor said.

A concern among service organizations is that the emphasis on giving to the September 11th Fund will cause shortfalls in other donations.

'We're hoping it's not going to hurt our campaign,' Baker said, adding about $56,000 of the agency's $240,000 goal has been raised since the campaign kicked off a few weeks ago. 'It has hurt some United Ways. ... There's only so much (money) to go around.'

Kukovich sees less of a problem for her chapter. 'I know colleagues in other nonprofits are very nervous about it,' she said.

Many of those groups didn't hold fund-raisers planned for September, believing those events would be in poor taste after the terrorist attacks, Kukovich said.

Pacella said it will be important to keep both donors and helpers interested.

'I believe once we have them in and show them the importance of what they're doing,' most will stay, she said.

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